What Do Hollywood Execs Know?

Another thought on critics: If movie reviewers are such good predictors of financial success, why hasn’t some studio caught on and put a bunch of them on the payroll? It’s not as if the studios aren’t actively pursuing every conceivable formula and strategy to predict what will and won’t work at the box office. As Malcolm Gladwell reported in The New Yorker a few years back, they’re all spending an awful lot of time and money searching for something like a guaranteed success, an answer to the movie industry’s longest standing problem, put famously by William Goldman: Nobody knows anything. If they’re willing to take a look at, say, sketchy predictive software, why not at human evaluators with long, presumably proven track records? It’s not as if movie critics are a particularly expensive bunch of people to pick up, certainly not by studio standards. If Lundegaard is right, then shouldn’t studios have an interest in this?

Of course, I suspect Lundegaard isn’t really right, and that even if there’s some truth to his argument, focus groups are probably more accurate predictors of success than any critical aggregate — making critics less valuable, from a pure box office standpoint, than a bunch of random strangers culled from an LA grocery store.